Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Senate increases spending at expense of ‘lock boxes’

July 11, 2001


— The Senate approved $6.5 billion more this year for defense and other programs Tuesday after Democrats and Republicans blocked each other's efforts to protect Social Security and Medicare trust fund surpluses.

The spending measure, approved by a 98-1 vote, is for the remaining three months of fiscal 2001 and is dominated by $5.9 billion for the Pentagon and the Energy Department's nuclear weapons work.

An additional $600 million is for cooling and heating aid for the poor, bolstering security at the upcoming Salt Lake City Olympics and a slew of other domestic activities.

These measures included $84 million to compensate miners and civilians sickened by nuclear weapons testing in the Southwest in the early days of the Cold War; $100 million to help the United Nations' fight against AIDS in Africa; and $116 million to process and mail rebates to taxpayers this year included in the $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut President Bush signed into law last month.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., cast the sole dissenting vote. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., was absent.

The House approved a similar bill in June. Leaders hope a compromise measure can be sent to Bush next week.

Added late Tuesday by voice vote were items senators won for their home states. These included $1.4 million by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to combat a disease afflicting California oak trees, and a temporary prohibition against the Air Force retiring 33 long-range B-1 bombers based in Kansas, Georgia and Idaho for the remaining months of fiscal 2001.

Debate over the bill also featured the year's first effort to roll back part of the tax reduction. By a 94-3 vote, senators crushed an effort by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., to eliminate the refund checks that the Treasury expects to begin mailing to taxpayers later this month.

And by 50-49, senators rejected an attempt by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to strip $33 million from the measure for the costs of an upcoming mailing telling taxpayers they will soon get rebate checks. Republicans said the letter would be informative, while Democrats called it a costly effort to claim credit for Bush and Congress.

By 54-43, the Senate rejected a Republican proposal that would have automatically triggered across-the-board spending cuts if the Social Security trust fund were to be eroded. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, the sponsor, called his plan "a firewall against irresponsible spending."

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said, "I call it the Republican broken safe, because there's not a penny reserved for Medicare."

Minutes earlier, senators voted 54-42 to block a Democratic plan requiring the assent of 60 of the 100 senators to approve tax cuts or new spending that would eat into the projected surpluses of Social Security and Medicare.

Both votes were nearly along party lines.

So-called lock box plans have failed to make into law before, and Tuesday's votes were no surprise.

Even so, with partisan finger-pointing escalating over who is to blame for dwindling surplus projections, each party's proposal allowed it to claim it opposes raids on popular programs for the elderly and disabled.

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